I have been reading for the last several weeks about “trends for 2015”. As usual, most of the predictions relate to things that are already known. If we know this, then we can expect that to happen.
So the most important question is “what do we know?” It is a more tricky question than appears on the surface. As Jeff Bezos pointed out, what we know relates to things that do not change. Things that stay constant as things change around them. So Amazon focuses on things that Bezos believes will not change — that people will always want (1) lower prices (2) wider selection and (3) faster delivery. And so far, it appears that he has been on the money, so to speak.
So far so good. But what do we know about social networking? What will not change? Well, we know that humans are inherently social. We need networks to support our social inclinations – to socialize. But what does being social mean? This is where things get interesting.
One aspect is to be “in touch”. To feel part of the current storyline. And so we follow the news and listen to gossip. Not because the news is all that interesting in itself, but because we feel the need to keep up. That is not likely to change.
Is that it? We also need to be part of “exchanges”. This may be an exchange that relates to a transaction. Like shopping or negotiation. Or it may be an exchange of ideas or just words. Like conversation. This is not likely to change.
Is that all? Well, I think there is an underlying value that we embrace in both staying in touch and doing exchanges. That is learning. Social networking is essential to keep the door open for us to learn how to better relate to the world around us. Put another way, keeping up and exchanging ideas gets boring if it doesn’t lead us to knowledge.
So we have identified two activities and an underlying value. Let’s ask the trillion dollar question. Do the social networks that we use now fully meet our needs?
There is no question that pre-interet, it was more difficult to keep up and do exchanges. The web has given us tools to make both activities much easier and cheaper. So it is not a huge surprise that services we used to pay for to keep up with news — like newspapers — have to adjust. Their monopoly on the resources we use to keep up is broken. In fact, the challenge that we face now is entirely different. In the past, we needed information itself. Now we are drowning in it. We need curation.
Curation is a service provided by experts of a particular type. They are not the geniuses who have deep knowledge of a given field. They are experts in how that knowledge may be used outside of that field. The story of Newton provides us an excellent example. Haley was not as brilliant as Newton in mathematics. But when Newton told Haley that he had invented a calculus that could measure movement of celestial bodies, Haley immediately saw its value. Newton had not.We can thank Haley for pushing Newton to write and publish the Principia.
Do the social networks that are available offer us curation? We reach an interesting juncture. Facebook, Twitter et al were not set up to do curation. To the contrary, they were set up to facilitate exchanges. This is nice, as we like exchanges (see above). But we know that this is not all we need for social networking.
So what types of services will curate for us? I think this is the key question that will determine what next steps we take in social networking. And I don’t just mean generating “guides” and “how to do stuff”. I am talking about (1) how to select the threads of information we need to follow in order to learn more quickly and (2) how to connect us to people who are on similar paths.
Keep in mind something else that we know. Innovation requires cross pollination. In other words, new ideas come out of the connections made between different areas of knowledge. For example, Watt needed an expert in boring cannons (Wilkinson) to make his steam engine pistons efficient. The curation that I refer to above will facilitate this type of staying in touch and making exchanges.
How will we do it? No one knows yet because it does not exist. But that does not mean it is impossible to create. My prediction is that we will start seeing this rather soon.